8 Hidden Reasons Change Fails

8 Hidden Reasons Change Fails

by Marc Gilenson

There is lots of discussion about change, especially with the circumstances we are facing today.  I will discuss the 8 hidden reasons why change fails, but first lets look at some definitions of change


Wikipedia – Change management (sometimes abbreviated as CM) is a collective term for all approaches to prepare, support, and help individuals, teams, and organizations in making organizational change. Drivers of change may include the ongoing evolution of technology, internal reviews of processes, crisis response, customer demand changes, competitive pressure, acquisitions and mergers, and organizational restructuring. It includes methods that redirect or redefine the use of resources, business process, budget allocations, or other modes of operation that significantly change a company or organization. Organizational change management (OCM) considers the full organization and what needs to change, while change management may be used solely to refer to how people and teams are affected by such organizational transition. It deals with many different disciplines, from behavioral and social sciences to information technology and business solutions.

IBM – Predicting, inspiring, and personalizing organizational change management can separate business leaders from those left behind. Employee centric workflows are a critical competitive advantage. To help your employees embrace change, IBM helps design more intuitive systems of engagement that engender buy-in and enthusiasm for a new vision. We call our approach Digital Change.

Cambridge dictionary – the  planning and introducing of new processes, methods of working, etc. in a company or organization.

Our definition ‘‘Corporate entrepreneurial creative transformation (change management) is the art and science of leading others to embrace the thoughts, speech and actions that will embed the change within the organizational structure and produce a mutual benefit culture.’’

The Key Difference

The key difference between our definition and others is that all definitions are discussing change, our definition addresses change for the primary goal of moving more towards a mutual benefit culture.  This is relevant if the change is as small as changing the position of office desks or as large as an organizational change such as working from home vs the office, or a combination of the two.   We also base our change on the S.M.A.R.T. Platform that is also scalable from a small project to an enterprise transformation.

Research Shows 8 Root Causes

Our research has shown that there are 8 hidden root causes why change is hampered or never happens.  As with our definition, you can apply these 8 root causes to a small change or an or an enterprise wide change.

These 8 root causes rarely discussed are avoided and are usually a hidden cause of failure to transform. This is primarily because it is the managers or leader that does not want to discuss these topics.  

  1. The proposed change is a move away from alignment with the management’s goals, even if it helps the company. The problem is the change or the people suggesting change are seen as a disruptive force.  This most often happens when the managers focus is on short-term results, and the suggested change is based on long-term improvement or benefiting others in the company.
  2. Lack of clarity – management and the company mission is to promote creativity and innovation, yet the incentives and advancement is accomplished by longevity, or succeeding at the status quo.  Lack of clarity is also caused by a lack of process and communication of innovation and change ideas up the management chain.
  3. C-Level (management) complacency – few organizations have cultures which are able to deal with risk.  They don’t know how to support change that is not guaranteed to succeed.  Since failure is an important component of corporate entrepreneurship and innovation. This leads to C-level complacency that kills most innovative change.  These executives are confused about how to find and cultivate creative ideas…so they hire and cultivate corporate citizens that go to work and just do their job…like they do.
  4. Lack of visibility into the interconnectedness of the organization – One of the key perceived benefits of corporate entrepreneurial culture is that it creates change from all levels within the organization, avoiding the resistance and conflict of traditional change. Change, whether planned or emergent needs to be visible to senior management to avoid sub-optimized thinking to power struggles, flawed thinking and departmental conflicts.  Through the use of a Corporate Wisdom framework (knowledge management) it will allow the organization to reduce risk while at the same time promoting and benefiting from corporate entrepreneurial creative destruction.
  5. Poor communication – While clarity and visibility involve communications channels and framework, it is not complete.  Communication relative to change needs to involve a process for reaching the internal customer segments involved and effected by the change.  Organizations are interconnected more than ever, and any department or individual affected should be identified and marketed to.   Change communication should include those involved in the strategy and planning of the change; anyone that is emotionally affected, those expected to provide or adjust human resource needs, and those that review compliance to the company culture.  This type of communication may seem difficult because it requires the change agent and management to understand how their organization is interconnected and to have a mutual benefit mindset. (see podcast on system theory and interconnected organization)
  6. Inadequate middle management development – Most organizations don’t realize it or have not put it this way, but they look at middle management as the innovation police,  they must stop  poorly presented/contrived and over-sold ideas from taking up valuable time and resources. The issue is that this role is not clearly defined and there is no training or development in this area.  Additionally, they cannot do this in a bubble, it takes collaboration with other middle managers and senior managers.  They need to be trained to develop internal network skills, utilize incremental learning to understand ideas they are not familiar with, how to ask for help without looking weak,  how to navigate the political fear and opposition they may face, or how to embrace and promote a mutual benefit culture.
  7. Competitive obsession – Please listen to our podcast on this topic to fully understand the affects this has.  A recent study by our company found that 64% of the executives we surveyed said that they have competitive obsession, while on 60% said their companies promoted this philosophy.  The paradox is that those that successfully implemented change and are promoted to management, reduce the likelihood of future innovation.  This feeling of having to win at someone else’s lose will stifle innovation for fear of losing status as the creative one, losing a promotion, or making less than the person making the change.  Competitive obsession also affects change when a manager or executive sees the change as helping another person or department look better than they do on the stack ranking or with regards to other KPI’s they are measured on.
  8. Sub-optimized thinking – This is a culmination of all the other reasons.  Whether based on lack of training, poor communications, complacency, lack of clarity, lack of visibility, concern over alignment with company culture, or competitive obsession, it boils down to thinking only about yourself or your specific department.  This type of thinking is usually rationalized by a “protector” justification.  This is where you feel like you are protecting your department (your people), your company (rationalized by current incentive programs), and of course your family.  Therefore, any change that does not benefit you, will not make it to the next level.  The only change that will occur are changes made by each department that may negatively affect another department.  This will cause the negatively affected department to make changes to level-set your change and so the circle of sub-optimized change begins.  This is leads to company diseases like “fingerpointerousis.” 

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